12 April 2017Trademarks

UK Supreme Court denies tobacco plain packaging appeal

The UK Supreme Court refused to allow an appeal from the tobacco industry yesterday, in a final domestic decision on plain packaging.

All cigarettes sold in the UK must have standardised packaging from next month, after the court rejected the challenge to new legislation.

Four tobacco firms—Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International (JTI)—had originally lodged a challenge against the new plain packaging legislation, which implemented the Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU).

In May last year, the English High Court rejected the challenge. In November 2016 the English Court of Appeal upheld the original decision.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused permission to appeal.

Under the legislation, from May 21, 2017 all tobacco packaging must be in an olive green colour, with large images of health warnings covering 65% of the front and back of every packet.

“I am thrilled that the tobacco industry will not be allowed to appeal against legislation which will save lives,” said Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer.

Davies added that after years of hard work, she is looking forward to seeing the policy brought in and “smoking numbers fall even further”.

Given the requirement that a majority of the packaging must be covered in warnings, trademark owners' ability to promote trademarks and branding will be reduced.

Daniel Sciamma, UK managing director of JTI, said: “We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has refused permission to appeal the decision made by the Court of Appeal as we believe that plain packaging legislation breaches human rights laws, stripping legitimate businesses of their property without compensation.”

He added that the company has repeatedly argued that plain packaging is unlawful and will not achieve the claimed effect of reducing smoking.

“It is not working in Australia: the decline in smoking rates hasn’t accelerated since plain packaging was introduced four years ago and the black market has grown,” said Sciamma.

A spokesperson for Imperial Brands said that although the company wasn’t involved in the most recent appeal, it maintains that plain packaging is not an effective tobacco control policy.

“Instead, it plays into the hands of counterfeiters and smugglers who seek to profit from the trade in illicit tobacco,” said the spokesperson.

A BAT spokesperson said the company was disappointed that the court decided not to hear the case.

"In doing so, the court has left the door open for the government to ride roughshod over the commercial rights of businesses in other industries,” they said.

The spokesperson added that this decision is not a green light for other European governments to introduce plain packaging.

“Countries considering plain packaging will need to ensure that the measure complies with the fundamental rights of businesses in their country. It's also important to remember that the dispute before the World Trade Organization is ongoing and is unlikely to be fully resolved before 2018.”

Today's top stories

Qualcomm files counterclaim in patent suit with Apple

Hallmark sues rival in trademark claim

Kramer Levin names IP co-chairs

Did you enjoy reading this story?  Sign up to our free daily newsletters and get stories like this sent straight to your inbox

Already registered?

Login to your account

To request a FREE 2-week trial subscription, please signup.
NOTE - this can take up to 48hrs to be approved.

Two Weeks Free Trial

For multi-user price options, or to check if your company has an existing subscription that we can add you to for FREE, please email Adrian Tapping at atapping@newtonmedia.co.uk

More on this story

5 May 2017   Australia’s plain packaging restrictions on tobacco products have been upheld by the World Trade Organization, according to Bloomberg.
14 May 2018   Research has indicated that plain packaging of cigarettes has failed to make an impact in the UK, while counterfeit tobacco products are on the rise.
29 June 2018   The World Trade Organisation has endorsed Australia’s plain packaging restrictions on tobacco products.